Empty classrooms, unoccupied desks, deserted playgrounds; that’s what campuses—colleges, schools, and universities—in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic look like. Post the extension of lockdown, the University Grants Commission (UGC) hinted that colleges would be opening after August. Now educational institutes have decided to go online. Online classes, assignments, and podcasts are becoming the norm as conventional classes have gone digital to ensure that students don’t miss on their semester. “We placed our content online for everyone to access. All the students of our associate colleges can also access this material,” says Professor A.K. Rai, Vice-Chancellor, Lucknow University. Rai, however, believes that the online classes are not as efficacious replacements as the physical ones, but it is the “need of the hour”. Though most of the institutions have gone digital, many are facing the economic squeeze of the lockdown as they are paying the staff, even though they are not charging the parents.
“The Andhra Pradesh government provides fee reimbursement. Recently, it released Rs 4,000 crore to all students and colleges as fee reimbursement. If there is a system in place for the entire country, it will help. The government has also given instructions to not force anyone to pay fees in even private schools and colleges,” says Prof Chena Reddy, Vice-Chancellor, Nagarjuna Institute. The resumption of the institutional operations is fraught with uncertainty and colleges are waiting for further clarity from their respective states as the semesters are getting postponed. “While we finished our teaching and learning operations in the first week of March, the semester exams were scheduled to be held on 16 March. However, the Centre and the state government of Maharashtra issued notices on the 16th evening directing to postpone all the exams respectively. Only one exam has been conducted and the rest are remaining.” says Dr Rajendra Shinde, Principal, St Xavier’s College, Mumbai.
“Informal discussions are underway everywhere but we are waiting for directives from the Vice-Chancellor of the Mumbai University,” he added With this tectonic shift in the way students are educated in the country, many institutes are now identifying the challenges to eventually change their way of teaching in the long run. “Bigger challenges lie in identifying the right curricula for the online courses. There are plenty of tools and courses available for any given subject. Identifying the right tools and mentoring the students with a regular follow up are indispensable. Once this is done smoothly, we will be able to continue this form of education,” says Prof Sriram Chairman of Chennai Institute of Technology. “In the long term, we need to think of different ways of learning and teaching process. There cannot just be physical classes anymore. The pandemic forced us to shift to purely online teaching. We hope to develop a robust hybrid system of learning in the future,” he added Though some institutes are preparing for the long haul, many are hoping to start classes earlier than others.
“Online admission enquiries are underway. We are very clear that we will begin our new academic session for new students from 1 September. We are also in constant touch with our graduating students. We are counselling and motivating them,” says Rajesh Kothari of the ICFAI University, Jaipur. Though online education seems to be the future of the education industry, many institutes, especially in the Hindi heartland, recount issues with the new medium. “Many small towns and villages in Uttar Pradesh don’t have good online facilities; people there don’t have smartphones or laptops. Some of the students can access online education, others can’t,” reminds Vinay Pathak, VC, APJ Abdul Kalam University.
People like Shatradu Roy, Principal of Mount Littera School in Bhagalpur, Bihar, see this as an opportunity to redefine not only the method of teaching but also the material, “We have been receiving timely circulars from CBSE, accordingly, all affiliated schools are trying to reinvent and redefine the traditional way of learning. We have already received 13 circulars from CBSE and trying to implement them. We’re trying to focus on a few important features like trying to shift from schooling only at schools to the school-home collaboration”. With institutions looking at ways to go digital during the lockdown, education in India is in for big transformation.